How to Transform Half-Used Ingredients into New Meals

My last week's post on 5 Practical Ways To Reduce Food Waste  sparked so much interest that I felt like I had to follow up a post with recipe ideas to fully complete the circle. Food waste is something we all struggle with to a certain degree because sometimes we make random grocery purchase (or purchases) or forget about the lettuce in the fridge, or have a last minute dinner date with friends. Things like this happens all the time and sometimes you are simply exhausted to care about what's in the fridge. I hear you - been there, done that. My goal here is to provide you with practical ways to re-purpose half-used ingredients into  new meal inspirations. Think, what can you do half-canned tomato paste? or a whole gallon of milk that will go out of date tomorrow. If you missed the last post on food waste, I highly recommend you to skim through 5 Practical Ways To Reduce Food Waste

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Cooked Grains & Pasta

More often than not, we cook too much grains such as rice, quinoa, barley etc. Cooked grains by itself doesn't go bad in the fridge for 3-5 days but if it's combined with sauce or other things, it may develop an after-taste so obviously, the goal is to consume it soon to avoid waste/spoilage. You can also freeze grains for up to 3 months if stored correctly. Simply pack cooled cooked grains into pre-portioned bags and store it in the freezer. You can thaw on the counter top or drop the bag into boiling water. Similarly, pasta/noodles can be stored for 3-5 days and can be reheated by dropping into boiling water for few minutes. I have never tried freezing cooked pasta but I read that you can freeze it up to 2 weeks and allow it to thaw or drop the bag into boiling water. Here are few recipes with cooked grains and pasta you should try: 

Open & Unopened Milk

In case you read my last post, you should probably know by now that date on food items except for infant formula are not an indicator of the product’s safety; it simply indicates when food is of best quality. I am not a milk drinker unless it is combined with some other food like oatmeal, smoothies, tea etc so I used to throw out milk a lot because it's past the date. I am not suggesting you to ignore that date but use your sense of smell to see if it has a funky smell. If it smells fine, you can probably stretch a day or two. Unopened milk despite the date on the container will probably last longer if stored correctly in the fridge. If you are not a regular milk drinker, consider purchasing half gallon or milk with ultrahigh temperature (UHT) processing or treatment as they have a longer shelf life. When in doubt, here are 10 Ways to Use Up A Gallon of Milk! Some of my favorite milk-based recipes that can be used interchangeably: 

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Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomato is a staple in my kitchen and there are different varieties available depending on the recipe. Canned tomato sauce is a smooth puree, diced tomatoes are chopped up and swimming in thin tomato juice, crushed tomatoes are chunkier, and whole tomatoes are peeled tomatoes in juice. I usually stick with diced or whole tomatoes and substitute when possible but sometimes you are left with 1/2 a can..so if this sounds like a similar situation, here are some delicious ideas : 

Cooked Meat

Cooked meat is a very versatile ingredient with endless possibilities! If stored properly, cooked meat such as grilled chicken, steak, ground meat etc last for 3-4 days and can be kept in the freezer for a long time if stored properly. Every couple of weeks, I roast a whole chicken and use it throughout the week and it ends up being so economical. Some of my favorite ways to re purpose cooked meat are as follows:

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Mashed Potato

Mashed potato will last in the fridge 3-4 days but I prefer to re-purpose mashed potato into something more exciting. If you are making a large batch, season minimally at first so you have more options later. Leftover mashed potato is really a blank canvass for many possibilities : 

Also,  check out 33 other ways to enjoy your leftover mashed potato!

Greens and Herbs

Greens and herbs wilt making them unpalatable, which is why I am always on a rescue mission to come up with ideas to use them. Most Greens and herbs when stored properly stay fresh for almost a week (some sturdy herbs stay longer). You can sometimes revive greens like lettuce, baby spinach & arugula by quickly plunging them into an ice bath. For heartier greens like heartier leafy greens collards, chard, and kale (those with tougher exteriors), you can trim the ends of the lettuce and stand them upright in a container of water. My go-to recipe for greens and herbs is this  3 Herb & Arugula Salad  & swap greens and herbs depending on what I have on hand. Greens can be frozen and used later in smoothies, soups, and stews, and pasta type dishes. You can do the same thing with fresh herbs as well. Here are some ideas to utilize greens and herbs:

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Roasted Vegetables

Roasted vegetables are delicious and easy side to complete any meal. You can make those ahead of time and reheat them right before serving. Seasonal root vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, turnips lasts longer compared to peppers, squash, and onions but either way, they can be transformed into delicious meals throughout the week:

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Stale Bread

How many of us are guilty of throwing the ends of bread? or, buy a whole loaf of baguette but never actually finish them. I am there with you friends. Only recently, I have started to save the ends of bread and take care of baguette before I tossed them away. Here are some creative ways to repurpose stale bread and ends of bread for next time:

Half-Eaten Cake

Every birthday or special occasion, it saddens me to waste half the cake because there is only so many times one can eat cake for breakfast and after dinner...right? Also, I wish more places will have smaller cake options that are equally delicious. I  have yet to repurpose half-eaten cake but in the future, I may try one of these 15 incredible uses for leftover cake....or remember to share my co-workers and friends. 

Heavy Cream/Half n' Half

Half and half is a mixture of equal parts milk and cream (10.5 percent and 18 percent milk fat) while heavy cream is basically just cream about 30 percent and 36 percent milk fat. You can't use heavy cream and half n' half interchangeably but if you have heavy cream on hand, you can make half n' half by mixing it with milk. If you have a open carton of heavy cream that needs to go, here are some delicious uses in sweet and savory recipes : 

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SALSA & GUACAMOLE

If you have half jar of salsa and guacamole left from last night's party, turn those into weeknight meals:

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is one of those ingredients that adds zip and special touch to baked goods, dressings, and pancakes but unfortunately it stays in the back of your fridge untouched. Did you know that it's super and quick to make buttermilk using just 2 ingredients. You can use dairy or non-dairy milk with a little acidity (lemon juice or white vinegar) added.  Even though the mix won't get as thick and creamy but it works great. You can also thin yogurt or sour cream with milk or plain water. For every 1 cup of buttermilk, mix scant 1 cup of milk with 1-2 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and let it sit for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Some of my favorite ways to include buttermilk in recipes are:

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I'd love to hear your what's in your fridge half-used right now. 

Do you have any other tips and tricks on how to re-purpose ingredients into new meal ideas?